BALTIMORE, NOV. 10 -- About 35 Marine reservists were forced to deal today with the grim aspects of their possible service in Operation Desert Shield. Along with M-16 rifles, gas masks and nerve gas antidotes, they received help with their wills and life insurance.
The group had reason to take the paperwork more seriously than reservists activated earlier. As members of the 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, they are part of President Bush's "offensive military option." Should war be declared, these combat reservists could be called to the front lines to help other troops advance over land, even through the flaming trenches and minefields reportedly being prepared by the Iraqis.
The reservists spent the day filling out paperwork to get their personal lives in order, including naming beneficiaries on life insurance policies and designating their next of kin.
Several admitted being nervous about their future. And some questioned the call-up.
"They should have more of an allied commitment before they start calling in the reserves. It looks like we are shouldering all of the burden now," said Lance Cpl. Michael Byrne, 23.
Byrne, a nursing assistant at a shock trauma unit in Baltimore, said he will have to put off plans for graduate school. "I'm a little nervous about it, but I know this is what I was trained for."
Cpl. Truet Purnell, 23, had to drop out of classes at Morgan State University. "I don't think they should have called up the reserves because nothing has happened yet," he said. "I don't want to go over there and sit around . . . . I'm a little concerned about how we will be accepted when we get there."
Capt. Matt Crotty, a battalion public affairs officer, said the reservists' qualms are not unusual. "It isn't that they aren't gung-ho," he said. "It's that today they have learned they have a new full-time job in a place where they have never been before. Of course, people will have apprehensions."
The 35 Marine and Navy reservists are part of a 440-member contingent in Baltimore. The battalion has about 950 members overall. Units of the battalion are part of a recall that involves about 800 Marine Corps reservists from 20 units across the nation.
They are being assigned initially to the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Their assignment after that has not been disclosed, although many are expected to end up in the Persian Gulf.
The reserves have been activated for 90 days, but that could be extended for up to a year, Crotty said.
The 4th Combat Engineer Battalion is not the only area reserve unit to get called up. More than 300 National Guard and Army Reserve troops trained to run prisoner-of-war camps have been activated in Maryland. Many of them are police officers or prison guards in civilian life.
"What is unique about this action is that we are calling up an entire command structure," said Sgt. 1st Class Hoy Lesniowski, a spokesman for the 400th Military Police Battalion, an Army Reserve unit based at Fort Meade.
Although they may have reservations, few reservists expressed surprise at their call-up.
"We've been expecting it, so it's not a shock," said Lance Cpl. Greg Heiderman, 19. Heiderman said he volunteered for duty because "I'd rather see me go than a guy with four kids and a wife."
Cpl. Darrel Kemp, 24, a Maryland corrections officer, echoed the sentiment of virtually all the reservists, who said they will carry out their responsibilities.
"I'm going to do whatever the president feels we have to do," Kemp said. "This bunch is eager to do their job."
"It is refreshing to see people like these guys who are willing to stand up for what they believe," said Maj. Ray Burkart, 35, commanding officer of the battalion's engineer support company. "I think you'll find these kids' morale is really super."